You can’t be trusted to decide on Silvertown Tunnel designs, Greenwich councillors told

Silvertown Tunnel service building
Councillors had been due to decide on the tunnel’s service building last night

Greenwich councillors have been told they cannot be trusted to approve the designs for the Silvertown Tunnel’s entrance building because so many of them are opposed to Sadiq Khan’s road project.

Detailed designs for the building were withdrawn from the borough’s main planning committee at the last minute, with planning chair Gary Dillon reading a statement declaring that members of the committee who had criticised the tunnel had “pre-determined” the application.

At least six of the 10 councillors on the planning board are known opponents of the Silvertown Tunnel, and some may well have taken the opportunity to speak out. But rejection had been seen as unlikely, given that the design – from the architects dRMM – was uncontroversial and the road itself was approved four years ago.

Two councillors angrily criticised the notion that they had already made their minds up about the application. Planning decisions are supposed to be non-political and councillors are instructed to follow law and approach decisions with an open mind.

Tunnelling work began last month on the £2 billion scheme to link the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks. The tunnel will include dedicated lanes for HGVs and buses, while pedestrians and cyclists will be banned.

Opponents say the tunnel will bring congestion and pollution to the wider area and is incompatible with London’s climate change commitments. Khan has rejected charges of hypocrisy, accused opponents of living in “never-never land”, and said the tunnel is needed to combat queues at the Blackwall Tunnel, which will be tolled along with the new road.

The advice had come from the council’s legal department, which tried in March to halt a motion against the tunnel from the borough’s scrutiny committee.

Two councillors on the committee circumvented this by proposing and seconding a motion themselves. But this motion was cited last night as a reason for pulling the item. Council officers will now decide whether or not to approve the design.

“Officers have accepted legal advice that the majority of planning board members have predetermined their position on the item as a result of their views expressed previously on the Silvertown Tunnel project, including, but not limited to the motion passed by full council on March 22, 2022,” said the statement read out by Dillon.

“As a result, these members would not be able to participate in the item which would leave the planning board inquorate. This item will therefore be determined by a delegated authority in accordance with the council’s constitution.”

David Gardner, a former deputy leader of the council and a councillor for Greenwich Peninsula, said the statement “cast aspersions” on the ability of councillors to be able to decide on “a very specific detailed application”.

Anning, who represents Creekside, went further: “I’m very disappointed with the statement that you’ve read out which casts aspersions on members of this board and suggests that they will predetermine. I reject that completely.

“I’m very sorry that this has been publicly read out because it does cast aspersions on us. I am very disappointed that democracy cannot take place tonight for the people of Greenwich.”

Bridge The Gap campaign launch
Greenwich Council – including former leader Denise Hyland (front, centre) had actively campaigned for the tunnel to be built

Of the 10 members of the committee, Dillon (Charlton Village), Gardner, Anning, Maisie Richards Cottell (East Greenwich), Chris Lloyd (West Thamesmead) and Clare Burke-McDonald (Charlton Hornfair) have publicly criticised the mayor’s plans.

However, one member – former leader Denise Hyland (Abbey Wood) – publicly campaigned for the tunnel to be built. One of her cabinet colleagues at the time admitted this year that the council had “screwed up”.

Greenwich and Newham – where the tunnel’s northern entrance will be – had supported the project under previous leaderships, but Newham began to oppose the scheme when elected mayor Rokshana Fiaz took over in 2018. Greenwich took until this March to officially call for a rethink, with new leader Anthony Okereke opposed to the project.

On Monday night, in exchanges not reported by that borough’s local media, Newham councillors passed a motion calling for one of the tunnel’s lanes to be given over exclusively for public transport and a “cross river cycling plan” to be drawn up.

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